Brands optimistic of return to pre-COVID booking patterns on Sunshine Saturday

Brands optimistic of return to pre-COVID booking patterns on Sunshine Saturday

Many bargain hunters are expected to secure deals this weekend, says Thomas Cook chief executive Alan French 

Bargain-hunting Brits are expected to flock to online and high street travel agents this weekend to secure their summer breaks amid a return to pre-COVID booking patterns.

UK Trade body Abta says its research suggests three in five people will travel abroad this summer and just under a third of those are looking to book early.

Tomorrow has been dubbed Sunshine Saturday by holiday firms with consumers expected to use the first break from work after Christmas and New Year to confirm their holiday plans.

Speaking to BBC Radio Four Today programme this morning Alan French, Thomas Cook chief executive, agreed with Abta’s trends forecast: “We are expecting something in line with what Abta says.

“We have seen demand rising significantly since Christmas where families are typically thinking about where they want to go to for their summer holidays.

“Dare I say it, it does sound a lot more like a normal year with a pattern that looks a lot like pre-COVID demand so on the back of that we’re expecting to see a great weekend and a great month.

“Customers are shopping for deals that they can lock in and we are seeing people exploring both the classic holidays, the Mediterranean countries like Greece and Turkey, but they are also looking at deals in places that are perhaps less expensive like Tunisia and Morocco.”

French said Cook is not seeing more people book on credit due to the cost-of-living crisis but it is noting trends like more people booking all-inclusive and searching more, and earlier, for holidays.

He said this could indicate that people are being more careful about how they are spending their disposable income and looking to lock-in prices as early as they can.

French said the OTA was concerned about the potential for disruption this summer due to continuing strike action at airports but that he did not expect it to be an issue.

 “There’s a long time between now and summer so there’s a lot that can be done. I don’t think we’re expecting to see much in the way of disruption this summer in the manner we did last summer. I think travel will be much more certain this year than last year.”

Richard Singer, chief executive of holiday comparison sites and TravelSupermarket parent Ice Travel Group, told The Guardian: 

“We’ve learned not to be too optimistic – but so far we’re delighted. Despite the cost-of-living crisis, his firm ‘decided to be quite bullish’, running TV advertising campaigns, and online traffic in the period since Boxing Day is up 300% from a year ago.

“Bookings are really strong, the feedback from our partners like On The Beach is that conversions are really high. All the trends suggest it will definitely be a big booking weekend – whether the biggest for years remains to be seen, but certainly since the pandemic.”

Tim Hentschel, co-founder and chief executive of booking platform, said: “Sunshine Saturday arrives at a crucial time for holiday companies and booking platforms, against the backdrop of recent challenges posed by the rising cost of living and industrial strikes in the UK. 

“For example, hotel bookings reduced by approximately 10% this week across London due to the ongoing rail strike and emerging recessionary pressure. 

“We’re seeing this phenomenon across the UK and in other major European cities as people are being more cautious with their spending amidst concerns around the recession, whilst the UK specifically has been hit by transport issues which have deterred last minute bookings and also resulted in cancellations. 

“Despite concerns around the cost of living, recent reports have pointed towards Brits looking to reduce other non-essential activities like dining out and unnecessary clothing shopping before rethinking holiday budgets, so we are anticipating a strong uptake in international bookings this weekend as people seek the gratification that arrives with planning a trip in amongst the famous ‘January blues’. 

“The pandemic had halted the trend of the first weekend of January being a key booking period, but with international restrictions eased, Sunshine Saturday will make a strong return this year.

“Consumers are looking for more package holidays and value add-ons, such as all-inclusive access, free ‘upgrades’ or cost-cutting services such as shuttle transport. 

"This is increasingly at the heart of booking behaviour, and as a result, more hotels are offering free half board dining deals and ‘children eat/ stay free’ offers for example.”

Julie Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership that represents hundreds of high street travel agents, told Travolution sister title Travel Weekly: 

“Given the current booking trends, we anticipate that there will be a record number of calls and visits to travel agents this Sunshine Saturday as travellers across the UK look to book a much-needed break away and make the most of the great deals available across the wide product range bookable through travel agents.

“While the cost-of-living crisis is impacting all of us and holiday prices have to reflect these cost increases, there are still some extremely great value holidays to be had including during school holidays.”

Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, said: “The start of the year usually brings lots of enthusiasm for booking holidays and we know many people will be really looking forward to getting away in 2023. 

"People’s appetite for holiday taking has remained remarkably resilient despite the ongoing pressure on people’s finances, though there’s definitely a strong focus on securing great value for money.”

Michael Budge, head of Atol at UK regulator the CAA, said: “This weekend is traditionally the busiest time of the year for people booking their holidays.

“Many consumers will be taking advantage of deals so it’s more important than ever to make smart decisions when booking your next trip.

“Holidays can be a significant financial outlay, especially in the current economic climate. Our research tells us that many consumers thought it was important to have a trip financially protected by Atol.”